The meeting room on Capitol Hill was packed, but for Ted Cruz's presidential ambitions, one person stood out.
At a panel discussion sponsored by pro-Israel group This World: The Values Network on Monday afternoon, the Texas senator aggressively voiced his view that Iran should not gain nuclear capabilities. It was an opportunity for Cruz, an almost-certain presidential contender, to make his case to casino magnate, GOP mega-donor and audience member Sheldon Adelson—whose fundraising decisions are heavily influenced by candidates' support for the security of Israel—for 2016 support.
With typical fiery rhetoric, Cruz seemed to appeal to the influential donor, calling a nuclear Iran the "single greatest national security threat facing both the nation of Israel and the United States." He took a tough stance on the country, telling the crowd that "under no circumstances will the nation of Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons."
"The gravity of this threat cannot be overstated," he said. "I agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that a nuclear Iran presents an existential threat to Israel."
Adelson is visiting Washington ahead of Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday—the controversy surrounding which Cruz called "nonsense." The billionaire, who in 2012 donated $20 million to Newt Gingrich's campaign and later $30 million to GOP nominee Mitt Romney, has kept coy on who he'll support in 2016, meeting with sundry presidential contenders. After Netanyahu's speech to Congress, Adelson will co-chair a fundraiser for possible 2016er Lindsey Graham's political committee, Security Through Strength. Though the South Carolina senator said Adelson's co-chair status isn't an endorsement, it shows Cruz and other presidential contenders they need to step up their game if they want to court the influential donor.
After the talk, which also included Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Cruz chatted briefly with Adelson amid a swarming crowd of reporters and fans. And his remarks likely resonated with the mega-donor, who in 2012 decided to support Gingrich because of the long-shot candidate's pro-Israel views.
"If we go forward with a deal that allows Iran to acquire nuclear-weapons capability, I believe that history may well record it as a mistake and a catastrophe on the order and magnitude of Munich," Cruz said, referring to the 1938 agreement that gave Hitler parts of Czechoslovakia. "And when our negotiators return with a promise of peace in our time, we should believe it no more now than we should have believed it then."
He also lamented that congressional Democrats, in his view, aren't as committed to defending Israel against Iran. Israel's security, he said, "should be a matter of bipartisan agreement." Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman of California was initially scheduled to appear with Cruz and Wiesel, but withdrew Monday in reaction to a controversial ad by conservative Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the event's moderator, featuring National Security Adviser Susan Rice and a pile of skulls.
Cruz went on to hammer the Obama administration's "terrible" aims for negotiations with Iran, which could allow the country to come within one year of enriching enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon. "There's a technical word for it," he said of the administration's negotiations. "Lunacy."
Despite such tough talk, Adelson likely won't support Cruz. Last year, the New York Observer reported that, after meeting with the presidential hopeful, Adelson described him as "too right-wing." The mega-donor later disputed that, telling the paper that he was "the only person in the room with Mr. Cruz and thus the only one in a position to know how he felt about the senator."
Cruz told National Journal that he wasn't thinking about convincing Adelson during his remarks.
"Today was focused on one thing, and that was bringing people together to stop the single greatest national security threat facing America, the threat of Iran acquiring nuclear-weapons capability," he said after the event. "I hope it played some role in helping bring people together, to stand together in bipartisan unity and make unequivocally clear that never again, under no circumstances, will a threat of this nature be allowed to persist."
But Adelson's presence in the election, both physically and with his generous bank account, means savvy Republicans will undoubtedly court his wealth and support.